My New Reading Project

Last fall, a list went the social media rounds that particularly caught my interest. It was a list of the top 100 novels ever written — but the list itself was published in 1898. Inevitably, a number of the books in it have dropped off the cultural radar, even to the point of not being available on Project Gutenberg. (!)

coverLucky for me, number 100 was on Gutenberg, and I’m about a third of the way into it.

Unlucky for me, it’s a “gee, wouldn’t life be awesome if there was no money and we all were socialists” utopian fantasy, a la Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. From what I can tell, the entire book is a simple Utopian Tour, without any other plot to speak of. The prose itself is not awful, it’s reading smoothly for the most part, but the Mary-Sue-ness of it is painful!

Oh! But I haven’t said what the project actually is, yet, have I?

Well, obviously, I’m going to read them. More or less in order, from 100 to 1, possibly skipping some of what I’ve already read, possibly not. I’ll write a summary and brief review of each one as I finish it, and in the end compile those reviews and other thoughts posted along the way as an ebook. Each review will have a link to an epub download, or else I’ll make one (as long as I can find a PDF or at least page images of the book somewhere, like the Archive).

So, that’s the idea, and here’s the list.

1. Don Quixote – 1604 – Miguel de Cervantes

2. The Holy War – 1682 – John Bunyan

3. Gil Blas – 1715 – Alain René le Sage

4. Robinson Crusoe – 1719 – Daniel Defoe

5. Gulliver’s Travels – 1726 – Jonathan Swift

6. Roderick Random – 1748 – Tobias Smollett

7. Clarissa – 1749 – Samuel Richardson

8. Tom Jones – 1749 – Henry Fielding

9. Candide – 1756 – Françoise de Voltaire

10. Rasselas – 1759 – Samuel Johnson

11. The Castle of Otranto – 1764 – Horace Walpole

12. The Vicar of Wakefield – 1766 – Oliver Goldsmith

13. The Old English Baron – 1777 – Clara Reeve

14. Evelina – 1778 – Fanny Burney

15. Vathek – 1787 – William Beckford

16. The Mysteries of Udolpho – 1794 – Ann Radcliffe

17. Caleb Williams – 1794 – William Godwin

18. The Wild Irish Girl – 1806 – Lady Morgan

19. Corinne – 1810 – Madame de Stael

20. The Scottish Chiefs – 1810 – Jane Porter

21. The Absentee – 1812 – Maria Edgeworth

22. Pride and Prejudice – 1813 – Jane Austen

23. Headlong Hall – 1816 – Thomas Love Peacock

24. Frankenstein – 1818 – Mary Shelley

25. Marriage – 1818 – Susan Ferrier

26. The Ayrshire Legatees – 1820 – John Galt

27. Valerius – 1821 – John Gibson Lockhart

28. Wilhelm Meister – 1821 – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

29. Kenilworth – 1821 – Sir Walter Scott

30. Bracebridge Hall – 1822 – Washington Irving

31. The Epicurean – 1822 – Thomas Moore

32. The Adventures of Hajji Baba – 1824 – James Morier (“usually reckoned his best”)

33. The Betrothed – 1825 – Alessandro Manzoni

34. Lichtenstein – 1826 – Wilhelm Hauff

35. The Last of the Mohicans – 1826 – Fenimore Cooper

36. The Collegians – 1828 – Gerald Griffin

37. The Autobiography of Mansie Wauch – 1828 – David M. Moir

38. Richelieu – 1829 – G. P. R. James (the “first and best” novel by the “doyen of historical novelists”)

39. Tom Cringle’s Log – 1833 – Michael Scott

40. Mr. Midshipman Easy – 1834 – Frederick Marryat

41. Le Père Goriot – 1835 – Honoré de Balzac

42. Rory O’More – 1836 – Samuel Lover (another first novel, inspired by one of the author’s own ballads)

43. Jack Brag – 1837 – Theodore Hook

44. Fardorougha the Miser – 1839 – William Carleton (“a grim study of avarice and Catholic family life. Critics consider it the author’s finest achievement”)

45. Valentine Vox – 1840 – Henry Cockton (yet another first novel)

46. Old St. Paul’s – 1841 – Harrison Ainsworth

47. Ten Thousand a Year – 1841 – Samuel Warren (“immensely successful”)

48. Susan Hopley – 1841 – Catherine Crowe (“the story of a resourceful servant who solves a mysterious crime”)

49. Charles O’Malley – 1841 – Charles Lever

50. The Last of the Barons – 1843 – Bulwer Lytton

51. Consuelo – 1844 – George Sand

52. Amy Herbert – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell

53. Adventures of Mr. Ledbury – 1844 – Elizabeth Sewell

54. Sybil – 1845 – Lord Beaconsfield (a. k. a. Benjamin Disraeli)

55. The Three Musketeers – 1845 – Alexandre Dumas

56. The Wandering Jew – 1845 – Eugène Sue

57. Emilia Wyndham – 1846 – Anne Marsh

58. The Romance of War – 1846 – James Grant (“the narrative of the 92nd Highlanders’ contribution from the Peninsular campaign to Waterloo”)

59. Vanity Fair – 1847 – W. M. Thackeray

60. Jane Eyre – 1847 – Charlotte Brontë

61. Wuthering Heights – 1847 – Emily Brontë

62. The Vale of Cedars – 1848 – Grace Aguilar

63. David Copperfield – 1849 – Charles Dickens

64. The Maiden and Married Life of Mary Powell – 1850 – Anne Manning (“written in a pastiche seventeenth-century style and printed with the old-fashioned typography and page layout for which there was a vogue at the period . . .”)

65. The Scarlet Letter – 1850 – Nathaniel Hawthorne

66. Frank Fairleigh – 1850 – Francis Smedley (“Smedley specialised in fiction that is hearty and active, with a strong line in boisterous college escapades and adventurous esquestrian exploits”)

67. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – 1851 – H. B. Stowe

68. The Wide Wide World – 1851 – Susan Warner (Elizabeth Wetherell)

69. Nathalie – 1851 – Julia Kavanagh

70. Ruth – 1853 – Elizabeth Gaskell

71. The Lamplighter – 1854 – Maria Susanna Cummins

72. Dr. Antonio – 1855 – Giovanni Ruffini

73. Westward Ho! – 1855 – Charles Kingsley

74. Debit and Credit (Soll und Haben) – 1855 – Gustav Freytag

75. Tom Brown’s School-Days – 1856 – Thomas Hughes

76. Barchester Towers – 1857 – Anthony Trollope

77. John Halifax, Gentleman – 1857 – Dinah Mulock (a. k. a. Dinah Craik; “the best-known Victorian fable of Smilesian self-improvement”)

78. Ekkehard – 1857 – Viktor von Scheffel

79. Elsie Venner – 1859 – O. W. Holmes

80. The Woman in White – 1860 – Wilkie Collins

81. The Cloister and the Hearth – 1861 – Charles Reade

82. Ravenshoe – 1861 – Henry Kingsley (“There is much confusion in the plot to do with changelings and frustrated inheritance” in this successful novel by Charles Kingsley’s younger brother, the “black sheep” of a “highly respectable” family)

83. Fathers and Sons – 1861 – Ivan Turgenieff

84. Silas Marner – 1861 – George Eliot

85. Les Misérables – 1862 – Victor Hugo

86. Salammbô – 1862 – Gustave Flaubert

87. Salem Chapel – 1862 – Margaret Oliphant

88. The Channings – 1862 – Ellen Wood (a. k. a. Mrs Henry Wood)

89. Lost and Saved – 1863 – The Hon. Mrs. [Caroline Elizabeth Sarah] Norton

90. The Schönberg-Cotta Family – 1863 – Elizabeth Charles

91. Uncle Silas – 1864 – Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

92. Barbara’s History – 1864 – Amelia B. Edwards (“Confusingly for bibliographers, she was related to Matilda Betham-Edwards and possibly to Annie Edward(e)s . . .”)

93. Sweet Anne Page – 1868 – Mortimer Collins

94. Crime and Punishment – 1868 – Feodor Dostoieffsky

95. Fromont Junior – 1874 – Alphonse Daudet

96. Marmorne – 1877 – P. G. Hamerton (“written under the pseudonym Adolphus Segrave”)

97. Black but Comely – 1879 – G. J. Whyte-Melville

98. The Master of Ballantrae – 1889 – R. L. Stevenson

99. Reuben Sachs – 1889 – Amy Levy

100. News from Nowhere – 1891 – William Morris

And then, because this happens to all list-makers, there was a bonus list of books that didn’t qualify (the authors were still alive) but which he added on as a bonus anyhow:

An Egyptian Princess – 1864 – Georg Ebers

Rhoda Fleming – 1865 – George Meredith

Lorna Doone – 1869 – R. D. Blackmore

Anna Karenina – 1875 – Count Leo Tolstoi

The Return of the Native – 1878 – Thomas Hardy

Daisy Miller – 1878 – Henry James

Mark Rutherford – 1881 – W. Hale White [Or possibly this one. —ed.]

Le Rêve – 1889 – Emile Zola

Out of the one hundred, I have read fourteen (marked in bold), and am presently already reading the first on the list, Don Quixote. (It’s a slog, which I already knew.)

(I may also have read Walter Scott’s Kenilworth — I went on a Scott reading jag a few years ago — but I’ve no memory of it, and think it might have been one of the ones I missed, so I’m not counting it.)

Of the bonus list, I have read one of the eight (also bolded).

At this point, I don’t know if I’m going to skip or reread the ones I’ve already read. I’m tempted to be inconsistent, and skip the long ones and reread the short ones, but I’ll probably hold off on deciding until I hit Crime & Punishment (which I am tempted to reread). We shall see.

How long will this take? More than a year, almost certainly. I’m not going to hold to any kind of a schedule, but read as I am able to make my way through each book. Some will be quick, and some will be Don Quixote and take forever.

But it should be fun. Mostly. Kind of. I hope.

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